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Pioneer Editorial: Dayton will sign order for Medicaid

In fulfilling a campaign pledge, Gov.-elect Mark Dayton said Thursday that he will sign an executive order expanding the state's Medicaid program on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after he's sworn in as Minnesota's next governor.

The DFL-led Legislature in its 2010 session authorized the governor to sign the agreement which would send $1.4 billion in federal aid to Minnesota by expanding its Medicaid program to include some of the state's poorest adults. Many were formerly covered by the General Assistance Medical Care program, which was decimated to the point where only four hospitals -- all in metro Minnesota -- offered the program. It left rural Minnesotans with the option of traveling to the Twin Cities for medical care, or using rural hospital emergency rooms as their medical care.

The current governor, Republican Tim Pawlenty, however, refused to sign the agreement, stating the state can't come up with the matching funds and philosophically he opposed it because it was connected to "Obamacare," the federal health care reform bill. Democrats disputed both counts, saying the bill they authored provided matching funds through surcharges that would be repaid through reimbursements, and that Medicaid has been around a lot longer than Obamacare and that the two are not connected.

In an unusual move, the Legislature anticipated Gov. Pawlenty's refusal, and authorized the next governor to sign the agreement by Jan. 15.

That is what Gov. Dayton will do, 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in a Capitol Rotunda ceremony.

Expanding the state's Medicaid program will have an immediate effect on Minnesota, providing new or improved health care coverage to more than 95,000 Minnesotans, and retaining 20,000 health care related jobs. Because time has slipped, it now will mean $1.2 billion to Minnesota, which is still significant.

The only drawback is that state officials, in a legislative hearing earlier this month, said it would take eight or nine months to get the new program up and running. That is not acceptable, says Gov.-elect Dayton, who will prioritize the program for a quick implementation.

The Medicaid expansion will mean $3 million to $5 million to North Country Regional Hospital, and similar reimbursements to all Minnesota rural hospitals. For many, it means the difference between being successful or having to close hospital doors.

For many of those hospitals, including Bemidji's, Gov. Dayton's signature on the executive order on Tuesday will be most welcome.